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Goodbye Android Market, hello Google Play

By PETER WHITE

Published: 16 March, 2012

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Google in the week of the iPad3 launch, tried to address the weaknesses of Android Market, bringing its various cloud and download properties together into a single hub designed to be more like iTunes or Amazon. The result, Google Play, is certainly more like those platforms in one way - single-vendor control, and a dramatic move away from the openness of Android Market, which promised a system which anyone could adopt, brand and customize, and which was associated with its OS, not an increasingly controlling vendor.

The promotion of Google's own brand to the forefront will be seen by some as another step away from the notion of a vendor-neutral Android platform, and a stepped-up attempt to drive Google revenues through its supposedly open OS. While Google has been tolerant of partners tweaking Android Market for their own brands (as seen at Sony Ericsson and various operators) it faced a bigger dilemma when Amazon announced its own Android-based market, with no reference to Google's store or services.

Android Market has now morphed into a far broader apps and entertainment hub, designed to serve all kinds of screens. The site gives one-place access to Android applications, music, books and movies, and other content, bringing together the search giant's various online download stores. Google Play will be available immediately for Android mobile devices, said director of digital content Jamie Rosenberg, and soon there will be a browser-based version for PCs. "Now all of your media experiences with Google live in one place," Rosenberg said in an interview. "It can really tie it all together for consumers."

Amazon may be an irritation, but the main target will be iTunes' place in digital content, appealing to developers who will gain efficiencies and increased profile from a unified approach, which covers all kinds of content and a huge range of devices. Google also promises it has improved the user experience, particularly the ease with which developers can showcase their wares and consumers find relevant content. A key aim will be to generate more actual revenue for developers - according to Distimo, which tracks app store data, the Apple App Store creates four times the total revenue of Android Market, despite the latter's huge growth in download volumes.

As well as Android Market's apps, Play will incorporate Google Music and eBookstore, which were previously standalone services in a fragmented platform. So far, there is little word on streamed content, but many expect services like YouTube and Google TV to be integrated more tightly over time, as well as cloud storage offerings. Already, Play allows users to store a limited amount of content on the Google cloud for free, including 20,000 of their own songs. And customers can rent movies, in a similar scheme to that of Netflix. Any content purchased directly from Play is stored for free in the cloud.

All this looks fairly coherent but the branding change is a shocking one, especially when we remember the resources that went into building the Android name. But it indicates that Google recognized that the existing Market, as well as its other standalone stores, were not generating sufficient revenue, either for itself or developers and partners. Now it will have a simpler proposition for consumers with greater cross-selling opportunities and a smoother experience, more akin to the unified iTunes library of music, movies, shows and apps.

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